In a way that is strange. By virtually any measure, we are blessed to being living in this time and in this place. For most of human history, a high percentage of people have had to worry about the basic necessities of life: their next meal, their physical safety. That has never been true for me or for a lot of us.
And yet we remain keenly aware of the many ways in which our world is awry. I think particularly about the alienation and polarization in our country. On this day, I think especially about the mass murder of our Jewish brothers and sisters at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburg just over a week ago. The shooter, Robert Bowers, was quoted as saying, “I just want to kill Jews.”
Bowers is sick. He is best treated by the criminal justice system and psychiatric professionals.
But Bowers can teach us something about ourselves. Precisely because he is extreme, he can help us to see things about ourselves that we might otherwise overlook or excuse. The fact is, mainstream political leaders and ordinary citizens alike routinely demonize people with whom we disagree. I am sometimes guilty of that. I suspect that we all are.
It is not murder, thankfully. But here is what Jesus has to say about how we speak to and about each other: “If you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘you fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.” Those are sobering words in our current political climate.
As I recall those words from the Sermon on the Mount, I am tempted to point the finger at the people I don’t like who are angry and insulting. But that is, of course, to miss the point entirely. It is not my job to monitor the speech of everyone else. Our job as individual Christians is to pay attention to our own language. Our job as a community of Christians is to work on loving our enemies. In the political arena, we might start with those who are not our enemies at all, our fellow citizens with whom we happen to disagree.
Loving other people, enemies or not, is always hard. Living in an anxious time makes loving even harder than it might otherwise be. When we are anxious, we are rarely at our best.
Thankfully, today we celebrate All Saints Day, with its encouraging readings.
Our world may be awry. But as our Psalm says, despite our many problems, “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.”
And God is at work in His world. God is leading us, fitfully, in ways that are sometimes very hard to see, God is leading us towards God’s own kingdom.
On that day, we are told, God will wipe away our tears and take away our disgrace, and we will say, “Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”
In anxious times, we can take comfort in that vision of where we are heading and the certainty that God will get us there.
And in that day, we are likely to find that we are united with the very people who irritate us the most, the people in our personal lives and in the larger culture whom we are most inclined to demonize. We are going to have to love them then, so we might as well start practicing now.
Now, I love the visions of God’s final triumph that we get in Isaiah and Revelation, among other places. They encourage me when I get discouraged about how things seem today.
But God’s final triumph, encouraging though it may be, can seem a long way off. What about right now?
That is the very issue in our Gospel reading.
Jesus’ friend Lazarus has died. When Jesus arrives, four days after Lazarus’ death, the first person he meets in Lazarus’ sister Martha. This is immediately before our Gospel reading begins.
Jesus comforts Martha with the promise that her brother will rise again. Martha was a good and faithful woman. She responds that she knows Lazarus “will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”
But reunion at the end of time is not what Martha wanted. And that is not what Jesus meant. As we hear in our reading for this morning, Martha and her sister Mary don’t have to wait until the last day to be reunited with Lazarus. Jesus raises Lazarus before their very eyes.
This is a dramatic story. But the lesson here is not simply that Jesus can do great things when he feels like it. No, the lesson from our Gospel reading is that Jesus is active even now. Even now Jesus is at work, bringing life out of death, providing hope where there is none. Even now, Jesus is inching us towards God’s final victory.
I particularly love the last line. Jesus tells the astonished crowd of mourners, “Unbind Lazarus, and let him go.” Literally Jesus means unwrap the burial clothes that were preventing Lazarus from moving freely. But this line means more than that.
Lazarus is trapped in a world of death. Jesus comes to set Lazarus free, just as Jesus comes to set us free: free from the power of sin and death, free from the power of anxiety and fear, free from everything that separates us from God and from each other.
Jesus provides life where there was only death. And then Jesus instructs others to do the work of unbinding Lazarus.
That is the second great lesson for us in our readings. The first is that this is God’s world, heading towards God’s kingdom, with Jesus pushing it along. Jesus gives us the life we need. But the second lesson is that we are given the task of unbinding each other, of assisting Jesus in setting each other free.
And I think one more time about our anxious world. I think again about our traumatized Jewish brothers and sisters, who presumably gathered for worship yesterday in their violated synagogue.
And I end with a prayer from a Jewish Prayerbook that is appropriate for our Gospel reading.
When evil darkens our world, let us be bearers of light.
When fists are clenched in self-righteous rage, let our hands be open for the sake of peace.
When injustice slams the door on the ill, the poor, the old, and the stranger, let us pry the doors open.
Where shelter is lacking, let us be builders.
Where food and clothing are needed, let us be providers.
Where knowledge is denied, let us be champions of learning.
When dissent is stifled, let our voices speak truth to power.
When the earth and its creatures are threatened, let us be their guardians.
When bias, greed, and bigotry erode our country's values, let us proclaim liberty throughout the land.
In the places where no one acts like a human being, let us bring courage, let us bring compassion, let us bring humanity.
That is a beautiful prayer. As a Christian, I add two lines of my own.
When people are trapped in hopelessness and despair, let us remind them that this is God’s world.
And when people are trapped in fear or death, let us do what we can to unbind them.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.
 Matthew 5:22
 Machzor for Yom Kippur, p. 506